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Cape Verde: staying afloat. Known at home and abroad as honest and efficient, nation's people survive with the help of many donors

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Cape Verde may be the only nation in Africa that is cutting its military budget by 30 percent this year. Across the continent to the east, border disputes, coups, and rebel insurgencies keep many governments allotting 20 to 50 percent of their national budgets to weapons and soldiers. The archipelago 280 miles off the coast of West Africa has good relations with its continental African neighbors and with both superpowers, and its official policy of tolerating political dissent keeps opposition moderate and peaceful. Thus, when the government was looking for ways to cut expenditures, the ax fell on the Army. ``We can't afford it,'' explained an aide to the President.

Moderate, civilian government is rare enough in West Africa, where many current heads of state are also the authors of successful military coups. What makes Cape Verde's tolerant politics even more unusual is that they are practiced in a single-party state.

In 1975, a single party took control of both Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde after the 14-year colonial war with Portugal. The Cape Verdeans left the party in 1980 and formed their own government party, the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV). Mass nationalizations and vindictive politics that were common in other former Portuguese colonies did not materialize in Cape Verde.

Party leaders here opted instead for a policy of political moderation and a mixed economy.

Cape Verde has no known political prisoners, and the presence of the security police is rarely felt. Public criticism of the government is generally uninhibited. A group of Roman Catholic priests and activists publishes a monthly newspaper highly critical of the PAICV government. Although the paper has been challenged in court four times, there is little prospect of it being banned. And bookstore clerks say that it sells much more briskly than the country's stiff official newspaper.

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